Every year around this time, many businesses who rely on smooth order handling and seamless delivery have the same nagging thought: Is it time to find a new fulfillment provider?
It’s a valid question. If your brand is built on getting products to customers with reliable speed and in pristine condition, anything that diminishes those qualities also damages the brand.
It’s a competitive marketplace out there and even one negative experience can drive a fan of your brand into the waiting arms of a competitor.
Timing It Right
The reason so many companies try to find a new fulfillment provider early in the year is often just a matter of good timing.
The festive season provides a peak for most retailers, meaning that January can be the first opportunity to take a breath and review how the holiday rush was handled.
Although some disruption is to be expected when demand surges, peak season can’t be used as an excuse to cover common fulfillment issues. Poor communication, gaps in tracking, or consistently failing to meet service targets are all indicators that you’re not offering customers the order experience that they deserve.
In fact, any lingering doubt about your fulfillment is reason enough to consider a change in provider.
If you need to get specific, take a look at these questions to consider before you make any changes. If you decide that the time is right to move on, you’ll need to know where to start your search.
FIVe Ways to Find a New Fulfillment Provider
Depending on your resources, there are various routes you can take to connect with service providers that are a good fit for your business.
Here are five avenues to explore when you need to find a new fulfillment provider:
- Referrals and Recommendations
- Online Reviews
- Look at Industry Leaders
- Look at Key Locations
- Find the Right Technology
Let’s take a look at each of those in a little more detail.
Referrals & Recommendations
Even with all of the online resources that are just a click away, it’s still personal recommendations from trusted friends and colleagues that carry the most weight. For a decision as big as choosing a new fulfillment service, it makes sense to ask around before you try anything else.
Handling your orders is a big responsibility with many different elements in play at the same time. The only true way to know exactly how a provider will perform under pressure is to ask those who already use their services.
Start off by asking for recommendations, especially from friends in your industry. Try to get the name of a specific person that you can talk to casually before starting any formal selection process. Sometimes a quick conversation with the right person can help you narrow down your choices much faster than countless hours of online research.
That being said, spending some time online is inevitably an important part of the selection process as well! There’s a lot of information out there and knowing where to look will help you use your time efficiently.
Leonard’s Guide specializes in supply chain services, which makes it a great place to start a list of potential fulfillment providers based on the kind of service you need. ThomasNet is a broader supplier marketplace, which could be useful if you want to cast a wider net or just compare their listings to those you find on other sites.
You can also use online searches to vet different service providers who make it to your shortlist. Google or Facebook reviews may be useful for a handful of your list, but you’ll probably need to delve deeper into other business listings sites to get the full story. If the initial results you find via online search aren’t enough, try resources like the Better Business Bureau or Credibility.com to flesh out your research.
In many cases, your online sleuthing will play a major role in the decision to validate or dismiss potential service providers.
A sparkling reputation and recommendation aren’t always enough to find the right supplier. Even the most experienced fulfillment providers have business sectors that aren’t their specialty.
If you have specific requirements for your product, focus first on confirming those qualities in the companies you add to your shortlist.
Products that need to be refrigerated, for example, require particular kinds of transport and storage solutions to avoid waste. In some cases, there will also be government regulations dictating how materials are moved and stored. The fulfillment partner you eventually choose may need to hold the right license or certification in these cases, which will narrow down your options.
In this situation, try to start your search based on fulfillment providers who excel in your industry. You might know the names already. If not, try speaking to colleagues and peers who can get you started with a selection of trusted names to research.
Find the Right Location
As with the search to find an ideal home, a major part of finding a new fulfillment provider is so important we’ll say it thrice: location, location, location!
Are your customers concentrated in certain key cities?
Do you bring your cargo in through specific ports or distribution hubs?
Are your products high-value items that require a certain level of security?
Where your fulfillment provider is based will make a big difference to these and many other questions related to location.
Before you apply more complex criteria to your search, decide on your ideal location(s) for a potential fulfillment partner. It could be a quick and easy way to narrow down your choices.
Access to Appropriate Technology
Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace up and down the supply chain. What works today could be outdated next year, so it’s important to factor in the appropriate level of tech you need a fulfillment provider to make available.
These are some of the things you should look for when considering appropriate fulfillment technology:
- A reliable Warehouse Management System (WMS) that offers tracking, reporting, and integration with your internal business systems.
- An online client portal that will allow you to access key data whether you’re in the office or on the move.
- A suitable level of integration with your e-commerce platform if you have an online store.
- Labeling and barcode systems that will improve tracking and order handling efficiency.
Every business is different and will have a unique set of requirements for successful order fulfillment.
Understanding the different routes and resources you can use to find a new fulfillment provider helps to streamline the search process and ensures you focus on the criteria that matter most to your business.